In this paper we argue that a gender analysis is fundamental to health and health planning. We begin with a definition of gender and related concepts including equity and equality. We discuss why gender is key to understanding all dimensions of health including health care, health seeking behaviour and health status, and how a gender analysis can contribute to improved health policies and programming. Despite the many reasons for incorporating gender issues in health policies and programmes many obstacles remain, including the lack of attention to gender in the training of health professionals and the lack of awareness and sensitivity to gender concerns and disparities in the biomedical community. We argue that the key to placing gender values firmly in place in Health for All renewal is a change in philosophy at all levels of the health sector and suggest ways in which such a change can be implemented in the areas of policy, research, training and practical programmes and interventions.